The patriotic American white man can’t catch a break. In “The Baytown Outlaws,” murderous minority groups constantly hunt down a clan of good ol’ Southern white boys, creating an action-packed grindhouse comedy whose giddy pleasures are undermined by questionable racial commentary.
The Oodie Brothers—Brick (Clayne Crawford), Lincoln (Daniel Cudmore), and G.I. McQueen (Travis Fimmel)—live on the outskirts of Alabama law as hit-men and proud, self-proclaimed rednecks. As the film opens, the brothers shoot up a house of suspected Latino drug-peddlers while mocking their target’s broken English. Racial sensitivity isn’t high on their minds.
Soon, the three are hired by sexy Celeste (Eva Longoria) to kidnap her teenage godson Ron (Thomas Brodie Sangster) from her psychotic ex-husband Carlos (Billy Bob Thornton), a homicidal pusher in black market goodies. Thornton portrays Carlos as a seductive snake—cocky, hilarious, and frightening—like a love child between Anthony Bourdain and Jim Jones.
As the brothers, Crawford, Cudmore, and Fimmel sweeten their rough edges with heaping spoonfuls of Southern charm and good-natured sibling ribbing. They’re so much gosh-dang fun that we love rooting for them—until we realize they represent the white American male’s fear of losing his place on top. The Oodies are hardcore Confederates whose dead father was a local KKK bigwig. They’re wanted for target practice by the rest of the nation, personified by a smug Yankee DEA agent hot on their trail.
Cartoonish, murderous gangs straight out of a racist misogynist’s victimization fantasy chase the brothers. The Oodies fight a posse of prostitutes who coolly screw, then slaughter men; they combat an army of militant black bounty hunters; they battle a tribe of arrow-slinging Native Americans. They even butt heads with a snide Jewish bar owner. The corrupt local sheriff who controls the Oodies is African American, making them puppets of a system overtaken by minorities and therefore driven to live outside the law.
The movie’s breakneck pace and amusing plot twists are riveting. It whimsically mixes the caricatures of modern graphic novels with video game mega-violence, set to a smoking soundtrack of cocking shotguns, slashing knives, and splattering blood. Not unlike a certain D.W. Griffith flick, however, stylish storytelling and impressive direction does not forgive dubious racial politics.
If you consider the unusual animosity many white Southerners feel towards Obama and the rising popularity of “redneck” reality shows like “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” and “Hillbilly Handfishin’,” the film feels queasily in line with a significant percentage of the nation. “The Baytown Outlaws” will find its ideological champions, probably among a poverty-stricken populace who blame their disenfranchisement on liberal women and ethnic minorities.
Critic’s Score: C+
Directed by Barry Battles
Casting by Mary Vernieu
Starring Billy Bob Thornton, Eva Longoria, Clayne Crawford, Daniel Cudmore, Travis Fimmel